Analysis Someone once said something about being careful what you wish for. This is more or less how we're feeling about Google's agreement to contribute code to database maker MySQL.
As a close open source software watcher, we've been miffed by Google's interactions with the so-called community. Yeah, Google has its nerdtopia Summer of Code, funds bits of open source projects, hires some top open source coders and even puts back a bit of code. All in all though, Google's contributions of actual software back to the open source crowd do not come close to matching its voracious consumption of things such as Linux and MySQL.
In such a context, Google's decision to release improvements back to MySQL should look pretty solid, right? The open source database tweakers receive the expertise of a company dealing with massive scale. That's got to trouble Larry Ellison just a tad, even after a thorough brain waxing.
As Carr points out, there's a pie the size of Michigan in the sky with this thesis that's largely driven by Cringely. But neither pundit is willing to back down from the notion of Googlor invading your PCs.
Basically, the premise goes as follows: Google's additions to MySQL make their way into a production release of the database by 2009. Over the next couple of years, Google keeps on building its huge data centers and refining its software-over-the-network services. Google will improve things like e-mail and its Office replica and also hammer out some sophisticated business software - stuff that's better than what Amazon and Sun Microsystems dish out today.
Also over the next couple of years - and this is where Cringely seems to veer back into Conspiracy Land - Google will work in conjunction with IBM to infect the minds of America's Youth. The two vendors have a - blech, dare we say it - cloud computing - we feel so dirty - effort underway to teach youngsters how to craft code capable of running across multi-core servers and server clusters.
Take the possibilities to the extreme please, Bob.
But by teaching students about cloud computing Google and IBM are also seeding the technology in the companies where those students will take their first jobs after graduation. Five years from now cloud computing will be ubiquitous primarily for this reason.
But Google wants us to embrace not just cloud computing but Google's version of cloud computing, the hooks for which will be in every modern operating system by mid-2009, spread not by Google but by a trusted open source vendor, MySQL AB.
Wait, wait, wait. That's a problem because?
Here is what's significant about Google putting code into MySQL: they haven't done it before. Google has been a MySQL user from almost the very beginning, customizing the database in myriad ways to support Google's widely dispersed architecture with hundreds of thousands of servers. Google has felt no need previously to contribute code to MySQL. So what changed? While Google has long been able to mess with the MySQL code in ITS machines, it hasn't been able to mess with the code in YOUR machine and now it wants to do exactly that.
No, still confused.
Mid-2009 will also see the culmination of Google's huge server build-out. The company is building data centers large and small around the world and populating them with what will ultimately be millions of generic servers. THAT's when things will get really interesting. Imagine a much more user-friendly version of Amazon's EC2 and S3 services, only spread across 10 or more times as many machines. And as with all its services, Google will offer free versions at the bottom for consumers and paid, but still cost-effective versions nearer the top for businesses and education.
Google's goal here is to help us, of course, but along the way the company will have marginalized most higher-end computing vendors, especially Microsoft. They will have also made us totally dependent on Google services in such a way that we'll never, ever, be able to extricate ourselves. We'll be slaves, but happy slaves, and Google will come to dominate all computing for the next generation.
Carr, of course, loves this because it builds on the concepts laid out in his upcoming book The Big Switch. We're moving to a world of utility computing, don't ya know? There will be mega data centers that everyone taps into just like we do for electricity. IBM, HP, Sun and Dell will fight like hell to be the main producer of hardware for the superhyperglobal data centers, but you can be damn sure that only one or two of them will survive the journey.
We're not quite ready to buy into Cringely's entire proposal. Even Cringely rarely takes his ideas seriously. And we're not ready to consider Google as evil - even though it is.
We are, however, concerned about the pace at which things are heading and the wrappers they're coming in.
Were a company of Google's size and occasional competence to really pull off this enormous information-sucking database you might suppose those people initially buying into the products would like an exit option. You need an effective, economical means of shifting your data between service providers on this scale. In that sense data is quite a bit more of a touchy subject than electricity, where a rather dull debate arises around which provider might save you a few pennies per day, if you have the luxury of picking between multiple suppliers.
It'll probably take Microsoft until about 2035 to pull something like this off. But if Microsoft could do an effective utility service today, you can bet that people would worry about a Redmond lock-in. Meanwhile companies like Amazon, Sun and Salesforce run around sucking information, with users thinking little about the end game.
Most tragically, we can see customers flocking to "do no evil" evildoer Google with their usual glee. "Gee, that company makes sweet text ads. They sure seem to know what they're doing. Let's fork over the whole shebang." Add to that the open source wrapper of peace, love and justice, and you can start to imagine how easily Google could reach Cringelapocalypse.
Here's us hoping that a company with the moxie and stubbornness of an IBM or Sun starts pushing for some manner of open utility protocol or open coalition. While historically fond of some lock-ins, these vendors must see the likes of Amazon and Google as a threat to their data center domination, especially Google, which builds much of its own hardware. So, they should want to ensure a means of open competition around grabbing as much end user data as possible. Why be shoved out of the hardware game just because Google touches people first with search and email? (Pardon the Cringely moment.)
Dear God, this is a long way of saying that Google's chumminess with MySQL does raise an awful lot of questions. Maybe it's just a couple of database tweaks, but maybe it's not. Maybe it's Google befriending open source, but maybe it's Google building a Trojan Horse.
In either case, the big hardware and software boys better get their acts together and learn how to share data across these utility computing systems. It's what customers deserve. ®
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